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Engineering Writing Contest Topics Wide-Ranging

This year's winners in the Steuber Prize for Excellence in Writing engineering undergraduate writing contest included an in-depth discussion of what gives a Harley-Davidson hog its distinctive roar, a reflection of a year spent studying abroad, and an impassioned plea to eliminate the carnage landmines wreak on civilians. The three top prize winners were seniors in mechanical engineering.

The contest, an annual event held for the first time in 1992, is open to engineering sophomores, juniors, or seniors, who may write on any topic and in any style. "We look at how strong each is for its type of writing," says contest coordinator Michael Alley. "If it is expressive writing, how strong is that compared to other expressive writing? If it is argumentative writing, how strong is that compared to other argumentative writing?"

The competition was made possible by, and is named for William Steuber, 1930 UW-Madison English graduate. Steuber, who also attended the university's college of engineering, is a published author -- including the well-reviewed "The Landlooker," a story of the 1871 Peshtigo fire -- and is a former Wisconsin Assistant State Highway Engineer.

The $5,000 first place award went to Joel C. Moser's, "The Art of Noise." Moser painstakingly describes how and why the Harley-Davidson Motor Company maintains the distinctive "potato potato" sound of its cruising motorcycles.

"Just how is an exhaust note designed to 'sound like a Harley?' What parameters govern such a design requirement? Answering these questions is an everyday experience for some of the engineers at the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and their effectiveness in garnering solutions to them help ensure their product's continued success in the marketplace."

Svetlana E. Zilist won second place and $3,000 for "A Glimpse of Culture," in which she describes her year of studying at La Escuela Superior de Ingenieros Industriales (The Superior School of Engineering) in Madrid, Spain. She compares the strengths and weaknesses of the American and Spanish systems of learning engineering as well as the contrasts between the countries' cultures.

"An engineering undergraduate degree in Spain takes six years, in theory. In practice, seven or eight are more common. The emphasis of the engineering education is theory. Practical application of engineering concepts holds little space in the curriculum. Lack of time often prevents professors from teaching practical problem solving in class. And the idea of homework does not fit into the mind set of a Spanish university. Professors do not want to take the time to correct homework problems, and students do not want to take the time to solve them. Exam material, however, is usually split evenly between theory and practical problems. Consequently, students tend to fail at least half of their finals."

Michael Scholz won the $1,000 third-place prize for "Landmines," both a description the havoc that landmines play on civilians in post-war countries and a call-to-action for future engineers to "develop methods that make clearing landmines cheaper, quicker and safer."

"Many countries -- including the United States -- are reluctant to support restrictions on the use of landmines due to the significant role that they play in military strategy. Mines are used to slow or restrict enemy movement, to protect friendly forces or even to funnel enemy troops into areas where they can be easily attacked. Mines often maim instead of actually killing, which can be seen as favorable from a military standpoint. One officer states, 'Not only are [the victim's] fellow soldiers forced to witness the distress of one of their own, but transporting a single victim behind the lines for medical care can force the redeployment of several combatants away from the battle zone.' In addition, mines are inexpensive and require almost no upkeep to perform their function."

Other finalists, who won $300 each, were mechanical engineering senior Rick Giallombardo, for "Old Man River," chemical engineering senior Travis King, for "Locked Out," and engineering sophomore Yaniv Lazimy, for "Defusing the Population Explosion."